Trevor Dunn may be the new guy in Tomahawk, but his long history with the post-rock supergroups eclectic frontman Mike Patton is certainly enough to make him feel right at home. Led by ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison and rounded out by former Helmet drummer John Stanier, Tomahawk has welcomed Dunn as an official member.
Dunn will tour with Tomahawk to celebrate the release of the strikingly brilliant new record Oddfellows. A potent mix of punk, jazz, surf, pop, rock, and a dash of the un-categorizable, it’s my favorite record of 2013 so far and should certainly appeal to the fans of the aforementioned rock staples. Dunn is no stranger to genre bending as his impressive resume boasts a decade alongside experimental jazz guru John Zorn as well as his own successful projects Trio-Convulsant and Mad Love. Dunn took time during a recent three night stint with the Nels Cline Singers before embarking on the current Tomahawk tour to speak with me.
Do you have a favorite moment of touring past to present that resonates with you, or that a story that keeps popping up?
Probably my favorite was during one of the last Mr. Bungle tours in the States. We were playing in Myrtle Beach on this horrible tour package tour called Snow Core. We were opening up for System of a Down and Incubus and we were completely out-of-place. We were sort of the grandpas of the tour so we started really messing with the audiences. We dressed up like the Village People and acted super gay which really pissed off the metal kids.
That night in particular we got into an impromptu jam and started vamping on this disco riff in the middle of a song. Patton started giving a fellatio demonstration with the microphone and the crowd was livid. Kids were crowdsurfing over the barrier and giving us the finger. I thought I was going to get my ass kicked that night.
Out of all the music you have ever produced in your career, where is the most unusual place that you have heard your music?
It rarely happens that I hear any of my music anywhere. I do remember being in a disco in Melbourne, Australia with a friend at this multi tiered venue. There was a Goth level and a metal level, where we were on the metal level. They were playing Korn or something and then of course they started playing Mr. Bungle at some point. Some people seem to think it’s funny when they see someone from a band and think, oh, I’m going to play their music. In actuality, that’s the last thing that they want to hear. As soon as I hear it I go into that headspace of where I was at that moment and what was going on. There’s a lot of weight and history with that so it’s never really a fun experience for me.
Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap” moment on tour? Is that a common thing?
I love that movie but sometimes its hits a little too close to home. There are certain things that happened all the time, I have to say. I don’t if I can think of anything specifically, but “Hello Cleveland” is sort of a mantra now because it’s just all too common.
The new Tomahawk Record is out now on vinyl—are you big fan of vinyl and if so, are there any prized possessions in your collection?
I still buy vinyl, mostly used. I don’t really buy new vinyl so much. If I am going to buy something new, I usually buy it on CD. I am not really a download guy, I do it a little bit but I am pretty old-fashioned when it comes to that.
I have probably 2,500 records or something which isn’t a huge amount. In terms of prize stuff, there are certain things that I still find amazing. There is a Miles Davis record called Seven Steps to Heaven which is two recording sessions and basically two different bands. That record sounds really good on vinyl and that’s one thing that comes to mind. I tend to buy more obscure stuff – that’s why I get used vinyl. I buy 20th century classical stuff on vinyl and CD but it kind of depends really.
Do you have a favorite lyric from Patton, maybe something that you just heard and thought “what the hell?”
Yeah, I mean basically the new Tomahawk stuff …there is a song with the lyric, “What’s that the thing on your lip? You got some shit hanging off your lip.” It’s also the context of it, Mike really knows how to phrase words.
I read somewhere that you and Mike have known each other for quite some time – like twenty years or something?
More like thirty.
Oh wow, how did you first meet and do you remember the first conversation you guys had?
I don’t remember exactly the first conversation we had but we met in junior high school when we were probably about 14 or 15. He was hanging out with the jocks playing basketball and I was hanging out with nerds talking about Dungeons and Dragons and stuff like that. We found a comradery in music and we started trading records. Back then we would bring vinyl to school and trade records all the time. One guy would borrow your records for a while and of course tape it then give it back so. That’s where it all started.
I read somewhere that you’re a Cheap Trick fan? They are one of my favorite all-time favorites. I think In Color and the self-titled are two of the most brilliantly simple rock and roll records ever.
Yeah, I would agree with you, I think Live at Budokan was the first record that I ever bought myself. My older brother had a lot of influence on me, but that is one band that I discovered myself so I was a little bit possessive about them. I loved all those records.
I think I got the self-titled one a little bit later but I still listen to that one all the time. I think the bass sound is amazing when Tom Peterson gets to those eight and twelve string basses. I didn’t even realize until later that’s what I was hearing. Robin Zander’s voice is tremendous and the lyrics are really weird. It’s really straight ahead stuff, but there’s definitely something off about it. I don’t know what it is exactly, certain harmonic progressions or certain melodic choices, but I find really interesting. I’ve always dug that band.
I read that you were on a shortlist of bass players and got the call to do this tour. Were you surprised the first time you heard the new record regarding how straightforward it was as supposed to the previous records?
Not totally, I mean Dwayne might have given me a heads up about it or something but you know I really like those early Tomahawk records especially the first two. Actually, I don’t really know Anonymous very well, although I think we might play something from it so I have to learn it. But yeah, I really like Dwayne’s writing, his sense of harmony, and his style of guitar playing. So the idea of peppiness, if you want to call it that, I never really considered. To me it still has that kind of Dwayne signature and flavor to it.
Tomahawk are on tour now in support of their brilliant new record Oddfellows. They play two nights at The Great American Music Hall this weekend. Both shows are sold out, so stay tuned for a full recap here next week.